Dr. Heinrich Emil Brunner (1889-1966), a Swiss Reformed theologian, published his Gifford Lectures in Christianity and Civilisation (Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, NY, 1948 & 1949). Chapter III in Brunner’s first lecture series (The Foundations) is titled: The Problem of Truth. In my last blog on Brunner’s lecture series, I discussed reality. Brunner states that reality and truth are “inseparably connected. … The question of truth is no other than that of reality. Truth and reality are one for him.” (page 30) Jesus Christ states that he is the truth, but in a modern world focused on human reasoning and science, how does one know the truth? Brunner tackles this critical question in this lecture.
Brunner labels science as “materialistic objectivism.” In simple terminology, he is stating that people place their faith in material facts: “The object is the truth.” Brunner is a supporter of scientific investigation and does not dispute scientific facts. Technological advances certainly have benefited our world. However, those who place their faith in the material world worship “the golden calf.” (page 31) Brunner speaks directly to those who cannot distinguish between God-truth and world-truths:
“Science can never speak with authority about ends, but only about means, that it cannot find the meaning of anything, but only facts, and that science can therefore do nothing within that region in which human disorder has become most apparent – namely in the sphere of human relationships, the sphere of ethical, social and political problems.” (pages 36-37)
Brunner also takes aim at human reasoning: “Was it not the main tenet of idealistic philosophy that the subject, not the object, is the truth; that the mind, not the thing, is the true reality?” (page 31) The 17th and 18th century Age of Enlightenment resurrected the classical philosophic movement that elevated human reason above the material object. The subject became the truth. “Idealism offered no solution for the problem of society. It was a matter for the highly educated individual, for the intellectual aristocracy. … Idealism, with its theory that mind, reason, spirit, subject is the truth, had no answer to the question, ‘What is to happen to these people?’” (pages 33-34)
Brunner sees object and subject as two opposite positions that humans bounce between but are never satisfied. “Ultimate, final, absolute truth is neither the object nor the subject, neither the things nor the mind nor reason. The either/or of objectivism and subjectivism rather hides than reveals what is ultimately true.” (page 38)
Brunner’s theology unites truth and reality: “If God is the primary reality, then the word of God is the primary truth. Thus truth is not to be found either in the object or in the subject, but beyond both. Truth, then, is God Himself in His self-communication to man. If this is the truth, objectivism in its crudest form – materialism – is unmasked as idolatry, as deification of the world. But then subjectivism too, even in its most impressive form as absolute idealism, is idolatry as well, namely deification of the Ego.” (page 35)
God is infinitely above humans, but in self-freedom, reveals His truth through the word. “He reveals Himself by communicating Himself. It is the secret of His person which He reveals, and the secret of His person is just this, that He is self-communicating will: that God is love.” (page 37) God created humans and the human mind cannot comprehend God, except what God reveals. God created the world and gave humans the freedom to discover the world. Humans delight in discovering God’s creation, but cannot find God, who is spirit, in the material world. It is only through God’s word that humans can discover the truth:
“But if it is true, as faith knows it to be true, that God’s word is the truth, it means that truth – absolute, ultimate, final truth – is not ‘something’ that I can know as an object opposite me, neither is it reason or spirit, my knowing mind, but it is the divine Thou who, in His own initiative, discloses Himself to me. True, God is over against me, yet He is no object, but spirit. True, He is spirit, but not my spirit; He is the absolute subject, which I am not. … Ultimate truth, identical with ultimate reality, is not ‘something’, but God in His revelation in His word.” (page 39-40)